But Lument's camera work, instead of adding to Fail Safe's statement, merely wears out the viewer with its monotonous tension.
He uses all the standard melodramatic shots, close-ups of sweating brows and tight lips, prolonged views of radar screens and bug-eyed pilots in oxygen masks.
His character believes that losses are acceptable in a nuclear war if it is the American culture that survives instead of that of , which is “our mortal enemy.” Black feels that there are no winners in a nuclear confrontation.
He cautions against putting our defenses in the hands of lightning-fast machines that can make deadly errors which humans are powerless to correct in time.
The President must demonstrate dramatically America's lack of animosity toward Russia and prevent total disaster. This plot might have made an enjoyable, if not plausible, melodrama.
But the film's ludicrous script turns the plot into a parody of itself. Meanwhile, everyone draws a long face because man has let machines take over his destiny and isn't it awful that we might go to war when no one wants to, except the professor.
A competent cast tries its best under the pressing circumstances.
Henry Fonda is a reassuring President, Edmund O'Brien is a likeable air force general, and Walter Matthau portrays a thoroughly despicable professor.
He's willing to do anything for his country and his President, who's a college buddy of his, and he says that nuclear war is unthinkable, that anyone who says we can survive one is crazy. Then there's the "hardheaded" professor who says that our chances of surviving atomic war are pretty good but they would be even better if we attacked first.
After all, Communism is our mortal enemy, right, so why not?